Stress and anxiety are ways that the body and brain process specific situations that produce discomfort. We have all experienced these conditions and are familiar with how it individually impacts our health. Navigating stress and anxiety occasionally is not particularly harmful but when these realities are chronically experienced, it can take a toll on health in a variety of ways.
Not as commonly known, stress and anxiety can impact muscles and joints, contributing to the development of conditions that affect the body’s neuromuscular system. This includes disorders like temporomandibular joint disorder, referred to as TMJ, which involves the jaw muscles. By practicing ways to manage and process stress and anxiety, you can reduce the health risks it can have and improve overall wellness!
What is TMJ?
The temporomandibular joint connects the jawbone to the skull. There is one on each side of the face. This hinge-like joint is surrounded by jaw muscles, nerves, and tendons that support its motion – these joints move forward and backward, side to side; allowing us to chew, yawn, speak etc. TMJ (also known as TMD), is a condition that is characterized by the inflammation of the joints which causes the following symptoms:
– Pain, aching, tenderness of jaw and/or ears
– Challenges with chewing
– Facial pain, tenderness, aches
– Difficulty closing or opening the mouth, jaw feels locked in place
– Clicking or grinding like noise with mouth movement
There are likely a combination of factors that cause someone to experience TMJ. Stress and anxiety can either contribute to its development or worsen the condition.
Link Between Stress, Anxiety, & TMJ
Chronic stress and anxiety can manifest in the body in different ways. A few factors that can lead to TMJ include:
– Tightening up the jaw
– Causing people to grind their teeth (referred to as bruxism) and/or clench their jaw
– Producing muscular tension (around the head and neck)
These symptoms can contribute to TMJ in several ways, especially when they are experienced regularly. Stress and anxiety can:
– lead to the misalignment of the jaw which applies pressure on the joints, causing TMJ
– significantly impact sleep, making it difficult to initiate and/or maintain quality sleep which only worsens symptoms.
Chronic stress and anxiety can intensify these effects which then exacerbate TMJ. This can create a vicious cycle that impacts daily wellness. You can disrupt this cycle by practicing useful ways to manage stress and TMJ symptoms.
TMJ can typically be alleviated through self-managed care. A few ways to treat TMJ include:
- Massage and Stretches: using a cold or warm compress to massage and stretch the jaw and neck muscles is an effective way to alleviate pain and help with relaxation.
- Food: eat easy, soft foods to prevent overworking your jaw muscles. Avoid eating chewy or hard foods.
- Reduce Stress & Anxiety: this is particularly important if you experience stress and anxiety consistently. Identify your triggers and stressors and develop ways to eliminate or reduce them. You can also find ways to help you better process stress including:
o breathing exercises and meditation which help calm the mind and body
o relaxing activities like yoga, drawing, taking baths
o exercising, taking walks, cooking
- Improving Sleep: getting adequate sleep on a daily basis is a useful way to reduce stress and TMJ symptoms. There are numerous ways you can get better sleep:
o develop a soothing night routine that involves things that help you wind down from the day: warm shower, reading, lighting candles etc.
o create the most comfortable conditions: comfy bedding, lighting, room temperature etc.
o avoid using electronic devices and looking at screens at least 30 minutes prior to going to bed
o get 7-9 hours of sleep which is the recommended amount for adults
If TMJ symptoms persist, contact us today for an evaluation! We can provide treatment options that help jaw joints and muscles relax. Prioritizing your health and wellness by managing anxiety and stress can drastically improve your quality of life! Contact us today for a consultation.